California Regulators Allow Oil Companies to Continue Injecting Wastewater Into More Than 1,600 Wells in Protected Aquifers

Pump jack

Regulators with the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) announced in January that they plan to halt oil and gas wastewater injection in 475 oil wells in the Golden State — but also that they will continue to allow injections into federally protected aquifers at another 1,650 wells.

According to the environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action, the announcement appears to be in violation of DOGGR’s own compliance schedule, adopted by regulation in 2014, which requires all injection well operators that have not obtained an aquifer exemption from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cease injection by February 15, 2017.

Oil Industry Wastewater Injection Has Overpressurized Aquifers For Decades, Threatening California Drinking Water

A new report from the Washington, D.C-based Environmental Action Center (EAC) on California’s underground injection program finds that oil industry wells in the state have been overpressurizing some aquifers for decades, risking the contamination of neighboring aquifers that might contain drinkable water. Despite full awareness of the problem, state regulators have done little to stop them.

In Scathing Review, EPA's Science Advisors Tell Agency Not to Downplay Fracking-Related Water Contamination

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific advisors finished their review of EPA's national study on fracking and sternly rebuked the EPA for claiming that its draft study had found no evidence of “widespread, systemic” impacts to drinking water.

The EPA had not provided the evidence to support that claim, the Science Advisory Board (SAB) peer review panel found. The phrase was widely quoted in the press, but appeared only in a press release and the Executive Summary of EPA's draft study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water.

California Regulators Sued Over Plan To Turn Aquifer Into Permanent Oil Waste Dump

California regulators are facing a lawsuit over their plans to turn an underground aquifer in the Price Canyon area of San Luis Obispo County into a permanent disposal site for oilfield wastewater and other potentially dangerous fluids.

In August 2015, oil giant Freeport-McMoRan submitted an application to California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) for state approval of its plan to exempt an aquifer in the Arroyo Grande Oil Field from federal protections so that the company could move forward with plans to drill hundreds of new wells in the area.

In turn, this past February, DOGGR officially submitted an application to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to have the aquifer exempted from protections under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

California Governor Jerry Brown’s Climate Credentials In Question As Massive Methane Leak Threatens Public Health

California Governor Jerry Brown was in Paris this week at the COP21 climate talks burnishing his credentials as a climate leader.

Which has a lot of folks back home wondering: Why isn't Governor Brown using his authority to declare a state of emergency to protect the health of Californians currently endangered by the Sempra Energy methane leak at Porter Ranch?

At Tuesday’s High Level Assembly of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, Gov. Brown talked tough about his efforts to “dramatically lower” emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, including methane.

“This is probably the most immediate challenge, and the most important thing to do leaving this conference,” Brown said at the event. “Short-lived climate pollutants are something we can tackle.”

And yet, back in the Golden State, a methane leak at Sempra Energy subsidiary Southern California Gas Co.’s Aliso Canyon storage facility has been spewing massive amounts of gas for well over a month and making residents in the San Fernando Valley community of Porter Ranch sick. Hundreds of residents have already been relocated due to health issues associated with the methane leak.

Texas Family's Water Well Explodes, Burns 4-Year Old, Father and Grandfather -- and Fracking to Blame, Lawsuit Alleges

A family in Texas, including a four-year old, her parents and her grandfather, were severely burned when their water well ignited into a massive fireball after methane from nearby fracked wells contaminated their water supply, a newly filed lawsuit against EOG Resources and several related companies alleges.

Cody Murray, a 38-year old who previously worked in the oil and gas industry, suffered burns to his face, arms, neck and back that were so severe that he was left permanently disabled, no longer able to drive because the nerve damage has left him unable to grip steering wheels or other objects. Cody's young daughter, who was over 20 feet away from the pump house when it ignited, suffered first and second degree burns, as did Jim Murray, Cody's father.

Thousands Of California Injection Wells Might Be Polluting L.A. Drinking Water, But State Won’t Release Results Of Investigation

Los Angeles

California oil and gas regulators still embroiled in controversy over their “corrupt, inept, and woefully mismanaged” underground injection control program — which permitted thousands of oilfield wastewater disposal wells to operate in protected groundwater aquifers — are refusing to release the results of a report on thousands more injection wells that could be polluting L.A.’s drinking water supply.

EPA Study: Fracking Puts Drinking Water Supplies at Risk of Contamination

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its long awaited draft assessment of the impacts that fracking has on the nation's drinking water supplies — confirming that the process does indeed contaminate water.

“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the EPA wrote.

The impacts take a variety of forms, the EPA wrote, listing the effects of water consumption especially in arid regions or during droughts, chemical and wastewater spills, “fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources,” the movement of liquids and gasses below ground “and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”

The agency wrote that it had documented “specific instances” where each of those problems had in fact happened and some cases where multiple problems combined to pollute water supplies.

What’s In The Recycled Oil Field Wastewater Sprayed On California Crops?

“You can't find what you don't look for,” UC Berkeley researcher Seth B.C. Shonkoff recently told the LA Times, referring to the chemicals that state regulators don’t know to test for in the recycled wastewater the California oil industry sells for use on crops here in the top agricultural producing state in the US.

Chevron produces more than 10 times as much water as it does oil at its Kern River oil field in California’s Central Valley, for instance — 760,000 barrels of water a day versus 70,000 barrels of oil. Half of that water is treated and sold to the Cawelo Water District in Bakersfield, which mixes it with fresh water and sells it exclusively to farmers.

Nobody knows if that water contains chemicals from fracking or other extreme oil extraction techniques, because the companies aren't required to test for them before selling the water. Nobody knows what those chemicals are, anyway, because companies aren't required to make that information public.

California Urban Water Use Restricted While Regulators Give Oil Industry Two More Years To Operate Injection Wells In Protected Groundwater Aquifers

With snowpack levels at just 6% of their long-term average, the lowest they’ve ever been in recorded history, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new regulations to cut urban water use 25%, the first ever mandatory water restrictions in the state.

California is in the fifth year of its historic, climate-exacerbated drought and, per a recent analysis by a senior water scientist at NASA, has only one year of water left in its reservoirs, while groundwater levels are at an all-time low.

The Golden State’s towns and cities only account for about 20% of all water used for human purposes, however (including residential, institutional, industrial and commercial uses). Agriculture uses the other 80%.

Half of the produce grown in America comes from California, yet 2015 is likely to be the second year in a row that California’s farmers get no water allocation from state reservoirs. In some parts of the state, agricultural operations have pumped so much groundwater that the land is starting to sink.

Governor Brown’s executive order has been criticized for not including restrictions on groundwater pumping by agricultural operations, but Brown defended the decision, saying that hundreds of thousands of acres of land were already lying fallow because of the state’s water crisis.

There’s another industry conspicuously exempt from California’s new water restrictions, though. “Fracking and toxic injection wells may not be the largest uses of water in California, but they are undoubtedly some of the stupidest,” Zack Malitz of the environmental group Credo says, according to Reuters.


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